WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Purdue shooter of West Bend native pleas innocent
LAFAYETTE, Ind. - An innocent plea was entered this afternoon for a Purdue University student accused of killing a fellow student from Wisconsin.
Twenty-three-year-old Cody Cousins attended an initial court proceeding, where Magistrate Sean Persin entered the plea -- standard procedure in Indiana. Cousins was held without bond, and a tentative trial date was set for April 22nd on the murder charge that was filed today. Prosecutors said Cousins both shot and stabbed 21-year-old Andrew Boldt of West Bend in a Purdue classroom on Tuesday. Boldt's funeral is set for Tuesday night in West Bend.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he'll meet with distributors on Monday, to see what can be done about a growing shortage of propane heating fuel. The Republican Walker says there appears to be no easy fix to the shortage, which has hit many parts of the nation while sending propane and natural gas prices to record highs. About five-and-a-half million U.S. households use propane to heat their homes -- mostly in the Midwest and South. Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center asked Walker to use some of the state's budget surplus to deal with the problem -- but he says more money will not have an impact. Winter storms and long cold spells are exacerbating the problem. The National Weather Service said Green Bay has had 22 days below zero so far this winter -- tied for the fifth-largest on record to this date. La Crosse is having its 20th coldest winter on record, and the coldest in five years.
State health officials said today that 10 Wisconsinites have died from the flu this winter -- and unlike past years, three-fourths of the victims were 50-or-younger. Flu surveillance coordinator Tom Haupt said none of the state's deaths involved anyone under 18 yet. Normally, it's the very old and the very young that get hit the hardest. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says it's likely that those 58-and-older remain immune due to their past immunizations for this year's prevalent strain, the H1N1 swine flu. Lyn Finelli of the CDC says older people and young children traditionally have higher vaccination rates -- which was borne out by a recent study showing that 47-percent of Wisconsin between 18-and-64 never got flu shots last winter. Finelli says that age group has the lowest immunity as a result -- and it's still not too late to get a flu shot.
Wind chill advisories continue through noon in all of Wisconsin, as January's second major cold snap enters its final day. Siren in Burnett County was the state's cold spot at eight this morning, with an actual temperature of 21-below zero and a wind-chill of minus-37. Parts of southeast Wisconsin were the only places above zero. Sheboygan was at plus-three, and the region had wind-chills generally in the minus-teens. Much of far northern Wisconsin along Lake Superior did not get as much lake-effect snow as predicted. Herbster in Bayfield County had one-and-a-half inches, and Cornucopia picked up three-inches before the snow tapered off this morning. Gile in Iron County had just under six-inches as of last night, and it was still coming down. That area could get the predicted total of seven-or-more inches. A sunny day is in store for today, with highs from zero-to-10-above. It could get down to minus-12 tonight, before warming up into the 20's tomorrow with more light snow. Colder highs in the single-digits are forecast for the weekend.
Wisconsin's public school superintendent told educators today to keep bringing what he called "truth" to the debate over the Common Core academic standards. Tony Evers told the State Education Convention that the math-and-science standards adopted in 2010 would not lead to a federal takeover of education, as Tea Party conservatives claim. He called the multi-state standards a better way to raise student achievement. Evers also slammed the expansion of Wisconsin's private school voucher program, saying Republicans are creating quote, "more choices for the few without focusing on their constitutional obligation to serve all of our children." Evers also indicated that lawmakers should use the nearly one-billion-dollar budget surplus to restore state aid to public schools. Evers said state politicians quote, "no longer have an excuse to avoid the debate about how our schools are funded." Tonight, Republican Governor Scott Walker will propose using just over half the projected surplus for tax relief. He'll speak to the educators' convention on Friday.
A state Assembly committee has recommended a watered-down version of a bill for reviewing the deaths of suspects at the hands of police officers. The Assembly's Criminal Justice Committee voted today in favor of requiring all police agencies except Milwaukee to use outside investigators to look into officer-involved deaths. Milwaukee Police could keep investigating themselves through its internal affairs division. Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay originally wanted to require all police agencies to find outside investigators -- and to have a state review board consider possible charges against officers. The Wisconsin Professional Police Association objected, saying there might be conflicts between the review board and local district attorneys over charging decisions. Assembly Democrat Evan Goyke of Milwaukee said he's disappointed over the scaled-down bill, and the fact that it excludes Milwaukee. He said the point of the measure was to prevent police from investigating themselves. Goyke originally voted yes but changed his vote later. Democrat Fred Kessler and Republican Jim Ott also voted no. The bill now goes to the full Assembly.
Governor Scott Walker has called a special legislative session to act on his $504-million tax relief plan. The Republican Walker issued an executive order that the session begin today, on a package that returns just over half of the projected budget surplus of almost a billion dollars. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said last night he wants a public hearing on the property-and-income tax relief package next week, with a vote in his house on February 11th. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he did not have enough votes to pass any tax relief plan yet. Some other Republicans predicted a smaller tax cut, with more of the surplus going toward the expected structural deficit at the start of the next budget in mid-2015. Under the proposal, the average homeowner would get a $101 property tax break over the next year-and-a-half. Income taxes would be cut by $44-to-58-dollars a year per filer. Withholding tables would also be revised, so folks could get an extra $58-dollars a month on their paychecks -- instead of waiting until the following spring to get that same amount back in their income tax refunds. The Walker plan would also add about $100-million for the state's rainy day fund, and $35-million toward worker training and technical college programs.
A bill to prevent employers and other superiors from snooping into people's private Facebook accounts is heading to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. The state Senate approved a final amendment to the bill yesterday. It would let employers ask their workers to accept them as "friends" on Facebook and other social media. The state Assembly created that provision when it passed the bill on Tuesday. Walker has indicated that he'll sign the measure. Other states have adopted similar legislation, to make sure people don't lose out on job opportunities because they won't let companies look into their private social media conversations. Also, the Senate has voted unanimously to let companies transfer their state tax credits to another firm, if the original recipients don't pay enough in taxes to use the credits. Those original firms would have to meet several job creation standards in order to make the transfers. The bill now goes to the Assembly.
A worker who was recognized during Governor Scott Walker's State-of-the-State speech is a registered sex offender who spent time in prison and violated probation twice. 32-year-old Christopher Barber of Two Rivers wore his welding helmet on stage last night, when the Republican governor showed him off as an example of how, quote, "Wisconsin is going back to work." It was the kind of thing all governors do in their State-of-the-State messages, to praise those who've done Wisconsin and their administrations proud. But today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Barber served three years in prison for a plea deal in 2005 in which he was convicted of third-degree sexual assault while two drug charges were dropped. Barber has also been convicted of misdemeanor battery, and he spent a year in jail for felony forgery. He was convicted of drunk driving three times. Barber took a seasonal job in late 2012 as a welder at the Ariens riding mower and snow-blower plant in Brillion. He later grew into a full-time position. The governor's office said it asked employers around the state to recommend workers who were hired since Walker took office in 2011. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Dan Bice said neither Walker's office nor Ariens knew the details of his criminal record. Had the governor's office known, spokesman Tom Evenson said Barber never would have been invited. Ariens' spokeswoman Ann Stilt said the firm is now conducting an internal review of his hiring.
A third Democrat is entering the race for Wisconsin attorney general. Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ filed paperwork with the state elections' agency to indicate that she'll run. Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne and State Assemblyman Jon Richards of Milwaukee are also running as Democrats. If at least two of them file, there will be a Democratic primary in mid-August. As it stands now, the winner will take on the only Republican in the race, Waukesha County DA Brad Schimel, in November. Happ first signaled her possible candidacy a month-and-a-half ago. She said she was approached about running, and she was exploring the best way to put her experience to work for Wisconsin. Happ has been the chief prosecutor in Jefferson County since 2009. Voters will pick a replacement for J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican who will step down after eight years in office.
A unit north of Madison that turns manure into electricity reports a broken pipe for the second time since November. About 20,000 gallons of manure were spilled into a retention basin on Monday at the Clear Horizons bio-digester near Waunakee. The Dane County executive's office said the manure did not flow to a creek off the site, like the previous incident in November when 300,000 gallons spilled. Officials said the original spill occurred late at night and was not noticed until the next morning. This one happened when the company had workers on the site. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi asked Clear Horizons to review and modify its operational plan. The bio-digester breaks down manure, producing both energy that can be made into electricity, and leftover waste that's used as fertilizer. Company spokesman Leo Maney tells the Wisconsin State Journal they've identified about 20 elbows in the waste piping that need to be replaced -- and the new ones have already been ordered. Meanwhile, the state DNR is reviewing the November spill for possible enforcement actions. No decisions have been made on that yet.
The Sheboygan County Board held its first closed-door meeting in at least 30 years this week -- and it blames the state's Act-10 union bargaining law. Public employee grievances that used to be settled by state arbitrators are now handled in the jurisdictions where they're filed. So when a sheriff's office employee challenged his firing, it went to the Sheboygan County human resources department, then to a hearing officer, and then to the full County Board. The two lower entities upheld the firing, but the County Board reversed it during a closed session on Tuesday night. Board chairman Roger TeStroete said it would be better if a smaller group like the board's executive committee could discuss the matter privately, then make a recommendation to the full board. The supervisors reinstated the employee without back pay. Sheriff Todd Priebe said he knew the County Board was not comfortable deliberating the issue -- and while he's disappointed with the reversal, he'll give the worker a full second chance when he returns February 1.
The Red Cliff Indians say nothing hazardous has been found, after a second recovery of 22 barrels of munitions' parts dumped in Lake Superior in the 1950's. The barrels were first pulled in the summer of 2012 -- but they were thrown back into the lake because Red Cliff staffers and contractors did not feel safe in handling the materials. Up to 700 ejection cup assemblies for cluster bombs were found in the barrels -- and after all these years, they were still considered to be live. Last September, crews pulled out the barrels again and sent them to a staging area in Duluth. They eventually went to a special disposal facility in Sauget Illinois where they were destroyed. Non-hazardous materials found in 2012 were eventually trucked to a landfill in Menomonee Falls for disposal. The Red Cliff tribe, which is located near Bayfield, received federal funding to retrieve and examine barrels that were secretly dumped in Lake Superior during the Cold War. They said they found nothing toxic the first time -- and the same is true with the second retrieval. A report released yesterday said there's no "immediate cause for concern regarding the safety of water and fish consumption." The tribe says it's still awaiting some test results, and a final report is due out in August.
A man killed in an Interstate crash near Janesville has been identified as 27-year-old Timothy McKinley of Milton. The State Patrol continues to investigate the mishap, which occurred yesterday morning on I-90 just north of Highway 26. Authorities said McKinley was driving an SUV that apparently lost control and crossed a median, before it collided with an oncoming semi-truck. The truck driver was taken to a Janesville hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Two people found dead in an apartment in Green Bay have been identified as 33-year-old April Veraghen, and her nine-year-old son Damien. Officers found their bodies yesterday, when police responded to a "welfare check" on Green Bay's west side. Autopsies were scheduled to be performed at mid-day. Police said they would not comment further until the results of the autopsies and toxicology tests are known.
Tighter restrictions were approved today for the transporting of firewood, to try-and-slow the spread of the tree-killing emerald ash borer. The state Natural Resources Board approved the new restrictions on a 5-2 vote. Campers and others cannot bring firewood into state recreation areas from more than 10 miles away. The radius was previously 25-miles. Out-of-state firewood will be allowed if it's from less than 10 miles away. Previously, all out-of-state firewood was banned from state parks and forests. DNR officials proposed the new rules, after finding evidence that the tighter restrictions can significantly slow the spread of the emerald ash borer.
Wisconsinites are about to make some sweeping changes in the way they hunt deer. The Natural Resources Board cast a unanimous voice vote today in favor of key provisions to change the state's hunting culture -- changes drafted by Texas researcher James Kroll when he was the state's "Deer Czar" in 2011. One key provision endorsed today was highly controversial. It will eliminate in-person deer registrations at places like bars and gas stations, in favor of online and phone registrations. Hunters and tavern owners feared that the change would take away the camaraderie that happens when a deer party makes a big catch -- and then celebrates it at the bar where they turned it in. Tavern owners also feared business losses from the change. DNR staffers said it would make for a faster count of the harvest, and save money. Other changes endorsed today were a reduction in deer management units, and the creation of county committees to advise state wildlife experts on deer population goals. DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said the new measures would give hunters and the general public more of a say in the state's deer management.
Wisconsin farm activist John Kinsman died this week. The 87-year-old organic farmer from Sauk County created a summer exchange program in the 1970's, in which black children from Mississippi would spend time on Wisconsin farms -- and youngsters from the Badger state would do the same down south. Kinsman said the program showed him that black farmers were not being treated fairly by the USDA. He helped them pursue a discrimination suit which was later settled with U.S. Ag. Department. In the 1990's, Kinsman was a key player in a "Dump the National Dairy Board" campaign. In '94, he founded the Family Farm Defenders' group, in which he served as president until his death. It allowed him to travel the world to speak about food sovereignty, help farmers organize and make progress, and meet heads-of-state. Kinsman was steadfast in opposing bovine growth hormone, genetic engineering, and dairy pricing policies. He lived what he professed, raising 10 children on a 175-acre dairy farm at Lime Ridge in Sauk County.
Wisconsin farm profits rose by $550-million last year, to around three and quarter billion dollars. A report issued today by UW-Madison indicates that last year's farm profits were close to the state's record of three-point-eight billion in 2011. UW ag. economist Ed Jesse said much of the increase was due to a stronger dairy industry. The report said Wisconsin farmers had a record $5.6 billion dollars in milk sales last year, reflecting higher production and high milk prices. The UW's Renk Agri-Business Institute put out the figures. The total value of farm assets had grown by eight-percent during 2012 -- and farm debt went up by about the same amount.
Steven Gove will soon get a new tricycle to deliver newspapers in Manitowoc. His old trike got mangled up last Saturday night when it was hit by an alleged drunk driver. John Brunner, who owns The Fitness Store in Manitowoc, said he was so touched by Gove's calm response to the incident, that he agreed to give Gove a new adult trike for free. It will be delivered in a few days. Gove called it unbelievable, and he couldn't fathom such generosity. A 20-year-old man is awaiting charges in last weekend's incident. Authorities said he hit the tricycle that Gove was using to deliver the Lakeshore Chronicle -- and Gove was pushed through the car's windshield where he stayed until the driver got home and discovered what happened. Gove escaped with minor cuts. He walked off until police found him about a block away. Gove said he loves delivering newspapers, and he'll be back at it soon.
Remember the 1980's Miller Lite commercial in which Bob Uecker was told he was in the wrong seat, claimed he must be in the "front row," and was sent way up on top? Well, the Milwaukee Brewers will honor that iconic ad with a statue on the top row of Miller Park's highest deck. Uecker, the Brewers' Hall-of-Fame radio announcer, already has a statue on the ground in front of the ballpark. This one is only fitting, says Brewers' vice-president Rick Schlesinger -- because Uecker is synonymous with his famous "front row" line in the former Miller Lite All-Stars which featured retired athletes, coaches and assorted characters. The statue will be dedicated April 25th, and will sit atop the one-dollar "Uecker seats" behind the plate in Section-422 -- where two large beams already obstruct the view. Uecker deadpanned that he couldn't think of a better place for the statue. He said it will be great for the fans and even greater for the pigeons.